Where I Hit the Wall
At long last I’ve reached my great-great-great grandfather Joshua Perry (1805-1866) & his wife Louvicia Anne Wade Perry (1806-1884), my brick wall. 60 years before my grandfather was born, on the 1850 US census, I found his grandfather William Preston Perry (1805-1863) living with his father and mother Joshua and Lavisa A. Perry in Early County, Georgia. Now the wall looms near.
Since I know where Joshua and Louvicia were living, I turn to my trusty FindAGrave.com website and look for their tombstones. Right away I was able to locate them. Louvicia’s is unremarkable, providing her name as “Mrs. L. A. Perry” and her birth and death dates. Joshua’s though gives us additional information and a clue as to where to go next. “Joshua Perry, Born in Warren Co. Ga. Dec. 6th 1805, Died in Calhoun Co. Ga. March 29th, 1863, Aged 57 Years, 3 months, 23 days”. Warren County is 200 miles to the northeast of Calhoun County, on the other side of the state. Time to expand the search.
There are many indexes, databases and resources on Ancestry.com other than just census records. One of these is a group of marriage indexes, several of which are for Georgia. I’ve mentioned these before, and they come in useful again here. Remember these aren’t proof of a marriage, but are valuable pointers to marriage books and other records, and can be useful in locating spouses and the date and location of a marriage. In this case Joshua and Louvicia are easily found. This is a screenshot of the results from the Georgia Marriages to 1850 database. Joshua Perry married Louvicia Ann Wade on 2 October 1832 in Screven County, Georgia. Screven County is on the Savannah River, across from South Carolina, and about 80 miles southeast of Warren County.
This information prompted another search of the digitized microfilm images of the Georgia county marriage books available at the Georgia’s Virtual Vault web site from the Georgia Archives and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Unfortunately, the earliest marriage records available online for Screven County date from 1837. But there is another source to check. The LDS helped to microfilm the records of thousands of courthouses across the US last century. And they have copies of all those microfilms available through your local Family History Center (or Family Search Center as they are soon to be called). You can search for films online at the Family Search site. Just click on the Library Catalog link, make sure Place-names is selected in the Search box, then type in the state and county in the For box, separated by a comma (for example, Georgia, Screven) and click on the Search button. Ordinarily you will find marriage books under the Vital Records link, but in some cases early records may also be found under the Probate link. This is because the Courts of Ordinary (or the Inferior Courts in some cases) handled the issuance of marriage licenses in addition to handling wills and probate as well as deeds and many other civil matters.
In this case, I find that there is a film containing “Vol. A Returns 1821-1832 Marriages 1817-1832 Vol. D Returns 1833-1851 Marriages 1832-1837.” When you look through your results make sure you are looking for the actual court records and not the books of extracts or indexes. These can be very useful in searching for documents about which you have little or no detailed information as to their location or even existence. But the goal is always to obtain a copy of the original document whenever possible. So I ordered the film for a nominal fee ($5.75) and waited a couple of weeks. Be patient, it can sometimes take longer if someone else has the only loan copy of a rarely-requested microfilm, or if you are ordering a popular volume that many people want. Another film I ordered at the same time took over four weeks to arrive.
Reading microfilms of these old records can be challenging. The online services such as Ancestry.com and Footnote.com really do add value by cleaning up the microfilmed images when they digitize them. In this case I had to use a lot of tricks to clean up the image myself, and it’s still not great. Of course, that was after several hours of scanning the pages of the microfilm and trying to find the marriage record. I missed it the first time through. Finally, there is was on page 261, I think. The page numbers aren’t legible in this book, the top corners being almost black. And there is no index of marriage licenses here. There is however an index of estates and some of the administrators. So I looked at several records of estates on either side of the marriage record, located those in the index (some of those index pages are illegible, too, so I couldn’t find all of them), and then counted up and down to figure out the probably page number. Maybe someday I’ll be able to look at the book itself at the courthouse in Sylvania and confirm that.
And here the trail ends for Joshua Perry. I know I’ve probably made this sound easier that it was. And I didn’t just go straight back; I jumped around in my research. It’s not the recommended procedure, but it was my first line of research and I was trying to document a family tree I received from family, not pursuing an unknown. But with Joshua I can’t get any farther back. So far I have no wills or deeds which mention Joshua earlier than 1832 or which refer to his parents. There isn’t a Joshua Perry listed on the 1830 census in Georgia who could have been the right age to be my Joshua Perry. The 1820 and 1810 censuses don’t exist for Georgia. There are bits and scraps of other information from a few newspaper clippings, but I have confirmed only a small part of it. Louvicia was the niece of a famous Baptist preacher, the Rev. Dr. Henry Holcombe of Savannah and Philadelphia, and Joshua may have been for a short time clerk of the Inferior Court and postmaster. There is family tradition and a majority of the family trees on Ancestry.com, Rootsweb and elsewhere that says that Joshua’s father was Willis Perry, who was one of the so-call Seven Perry Brothers of North Carolina. There is some circumstantial evidence for the idea, but so far I haven’t seen one scrap of documentary evidence leading conclusively to that conclusion.
So here I sit at the foot of my Joshua Tree, knowing there is much to be discovered if I can ever break through this wall, but also knowing that I’ll not give up. I have a few avenues of research I’m still pursuing on this, but next time I’ll move on to another topic in this blog. I’m sure most of you have heard all you ever wanted to hear about Joshua! I'll keep you informed if there's a breakthrough.
Here’s your summary:
- FindAGrave.com is an excellent resource online, not only for locating the place of burial, but particularly for obtaining pictures of your dearly departed. It's all done by volunteers, so if you make extensive use of the pictures, please consider volunteering in your own area to take cemetery pictures for others. And always give credit for any pictures you use in your research.
- Ancestry.com has more than just census records. They also have valuable indexes of birth, marriage and death records.
- The Family History Center, the Family History Library and Family Search, a closely related set of resources from LDS, are invaluable. You should find your local Center, and get to know both the individual search and the library search. The volunteers at your local Center will be glad to help you.
- Don’t forget to Google your ancestors’ names. Yes, you’ll get a lot of chaff, but if you learn to use Advanced Search, and add keywords and place restrictions, you’ll be surprised at what you can find. Remember, even if you can’t use an index as a primary source it’s still a valuable pointer to the sources themselves. That’s how I found the information about the Seven Perry Brothers of North Carolina on Granny Peach’s Perry Page.